Looking for the best DAB radio around? We’ve tested the most popular sets to help you find that perfect frequency-locking audio companion.
Radio isn’t dead, not by a long shot, and these days you can get a pretty decent DAB set for less than the cost of a small Bluetooth speaker.
There’s a good deal more than just DAB to consider, too. Bluetooth streaming, NFC and Wi-Fi internet radio are all no strangers to DAB sets, even ones that cost well under £100.
So, which radio is right for you? We’ve tested sets from the biggest radio-makers out there, including legends of the radio scene Pure and Roberts, as well as luxury brands such as Ruark and Como.
From £50 radios to ones costing up to £350, we’ve compared the lot to see what you get for your extra dough.
Related: Best Bluetooth speakers
John Lewis Spectrum Duo
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- Bluetooth with NFC
- Dual speakers
The John Lewis Spectrum Duo may be the most anonymous-looking radio we’re checking out here, but it also packs in absolutely loads of features for the money. £60 gets you standard DAB and FM plus NFC-enriched Bluetooth for streaming from your phone, plus dual speakers.
This combo gives the Spectrum not only the best sound among our budget picks, but also the most satisfying set of abilities. If your phone is NFC-enabled it can simply be waved over the left part of the top plate to get it to sync up with the John Lewis Spectrum, letting you feed it any tunes on your phone and streaming services like Spotify.
Dual speakers give the Spectrum more powerful sound than the sub-£60 competition, with a nice forthright mid-range that helps it cut through the sound of noisy kitchens and fare better outdoors.
However, next to the Roberts iStream and Pure D4, the John Lewis Spectrum lacks in the bass department. Its speakers just don’t offer much low-end power.
Still, it is a bargain and the only elements that disappoint at the price are those of attention to detail in the design. It’s not the most convenient radio in a few respects. Rather than a cylindrical power jack, it uses the same microUSB port as most phones. This means it can be powered by a phone charger, but the socket is on the side, which is not handy if you’re looking for a radio for a kitchen with limited space.
The interface is also fiddly. Two knobs control volume and the station. Not only does the station knob not depress to select as it would on a more expensive radio, a slight knock of the dial will change the station after a brief gap. It can make it seem as though the John Lewis Spectrum is doing this by itself. If John Lewis had actually design and manufactured this radio, we doubt this would be the case — third parties are brought in for gadgets like these.
Think twice about buying for extreme technophobes, but otherwise the John Lewis Spectrum Duo is a cracking bargain if Bluetooth appeals and you want to spend under £80.
It also offers battery-powered portability, with a plate on the back covering space for 4x C batteries.
Buy Now at John Lewis.co.uk from £40
At time of review the John Lewis Spectrum Duo was available for £59.99.
Roberts Revival iStream 2
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- Internet radio
- USB playback
If money is no object, the Roberts Revival iStream 2 is a great DAB radio to pick. It melds classic Roberts Revival design with features you wouldn’t normally associate with such an old-looking radio.
You can get the Revival as a basic DAB model if that’s all you’re after, but the Revival iStream 2 offers Wi-Fi internet radio, plus a USB socket through which you can play digital files. It doesn’t have Bluetooth, but there’s a BluTune model available if you value that over internet radio. There is not currently a Revival model that does everything. The iStream 2 does support Spotify Connect, though, which for some will be just as good as having Bluetooth.
If you like the vintage look, the Roberts Revival is still the best you can get. It’s covered in convincing synthetic leather and has a classic-style metal speaker grille. However, words don’t really do justice to the design.
As well as getting a certain style just right, the Roberts Revival iStream 2 offers great sound among small radios, with much better mid-range clarity and integrity than most. It has a slightly soft, rather than sharp, sound that works very well with the limited quality on offer in the DAB signal. But the driver is clearly a cut above the rest here. It also has a decent amount off bass weight missing from the cheaper radios, and a 3.5mm output if you want actual high-quality sound from an external setup.
Like other Revival radios, you can actually see the inner workings if you open up the clasp on the back. The rear swings open to reveal the radio’s driver and even some of its electrical components. It’s unusual but, hey, there’s nothing specifically wrong with this style if you’re careful. The radio also takes 4x D batteries for portable use, although we think Pure’s use of rechargeable ChargePaks is neater.
All that really holds the Roberts Revival iStream 2 back is price. Like other Revival radios, it’s expensive. You do pay extra for the Roberts name and style, and some of Pure’s top models do have a slightly more pristine feel. Still, it was the clear winner here on pure sound quality, and that counts for a lot.
At time of review the Roberts Revival iStream 2 was available for £200.
Como Audio Solo
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- DAB/FM/internet radio/Bluetooth aptX
- Spotify Connect support
- Remote control
The beautiful Solo has been designed by the man behind many of Tivoli’s legendary radios, and has that same retro-chic ’70s charm about it. Features-wise, it’s been brought bang up to date, though.
In addition to DAB and FM radio flavours, you get internet radio over Wi-Fi, as well as Bluetooth aptX streaming, NFC pairing, and Spotify Connect support. The Solo can even – ironically, considering the name – be used as part of a multiroom system controlled via an Android/iOS app.
The interface is a joy, with a clear 2.8-inch colour display that shows a graphical analogue clock when the radio’s turned off. There are two alarms, and six presets that can be assigned not just to stations but also to sources – of which there are plenty, including optical and USB. The USB port can also handily be used to charge your mobile devices.
The Solo is as sumptuously built as it looks, and comes in a choice of four finishes: white, black, walnut or hickory. It even comes with a remote control, which is a rare treat.
However, you’re paying a not-inconsiderable price for all of this tech and tasty styling, and sonically it isn’t quite as impressive as the Ruark Audio R1 Mk3, lacking a little subtlety. It does maintain composure very well at high volumes, though, and still sounds great.
At time of review the Como Audio Solo was available from £349.00.
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- Easy preset buttons
- Aux input
Radios don’t get much simpler, much easier to use, than the Sony XDR-S60. Big knobs, big buttons and a very large, clear display make it an absolute joy to operate.
In particular, we love the big, smooth volume dial on the side. Given this is an unashamed budget set, a lot of attention has clearly gone into the design, including the position and feel of every button and knob.
The preset buttons on the top are great too. They offer operation so easy it’d suit even a granny who doesn’t really know what DAB is. It’s fairly well-made too. It doesn’t offer a particularly eye-catching design, but the front plate is made of metal rather than plastic and all the controls feel good.
Of course, with no extra features the Sony XDR-S60 feels like it’s charging the right amount, rather than being a total bargain like the John Lewis Spectrum.
There is an aux input, though, letting you play tunes through a phone, if not with quite the slickness of Bluetooth. The one bit we do miss from the more expensive sets, though, is sound quality.
The Sony XDR-S60 has a single driver unit that doesn’t get you anything like the power and thickness of the Roberts or Pure sets. It’s the classic ‘small radio’ sound — fairly thin and not that powerful. As an occasional use radio for sound accompaniment while you’re cooking it’ll do the trick. But for almost-daily use, you might want something with a bit more oomph.
While the MDR-S60 is much more pleasant to use than the John Lewis Spectrum, its superior sound quality and extra features for less money make the John Lewis set the better choice. As with the other radios, the Sony can be used without an AC adapter, using four C-size batteries.
Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £79.99
At time of review the Sony XDR-S60 was available for £90.
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- Aux input
Retro radios normally come at a significant price premium, but the Goodmans Oxford is a retro-style unit that is very affordable indeed. It offers good looks, but costs under £50.
Of course, at this price you’re not going to see high-end materials splashed across its body too much. There is some metal — the chrome elements are metal, not plastic, but the main part of the body is moulded plastic and feels a good deal cheaper than more expensive retro sets. If anything, it feels cheaper than some of the lower-end plastic sets.
There is a bit more to the retro style than a surface-level look, though. The Goodmans Oxford also uses old-fashioned control wheels rather than knobs, coloured in cream rather the pure white. They give the radio a rather different feel to other budget DAB sets, and it’s not a bad change.
Controls are simple too with three preset buttons on the top plate.
The Goodmans Oxford is not well-suited to those with sight issues, though, as the screen is fairly tiny. While it’s a 3-line display, it’s much smaller than that of the Sony XDR-S60.
Sound quality is at a similar level to the XDR-S60. It has that classic ‘small radio’ vibe, resulting in fairly small-sounding output, but clarity is unusually good. There’s a bit more treble/upper-mid presence here than most, which sounds good if you like your voices with a bit more zing to them.
For music, though, we’d appreciate more power — bass response is flat-out poor here.
Given a fairly low-power sound, we’re surprised to see the Goodmans Oxford uses more batteries than the competition. It has a compartment that takes six C-type batteries.
Like the Sony XDR-S60, the Oxford works best as a low-cost, light-use radio where its lighter sound won’t seem like such a compromise.
Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £49.99
At time of review the Goodmans Oxford was available for £49.99.